As a prominent health issue in America, many recognize the long-lasting impact that diabetes can have on a person's life. However, a much lower percentage of people are familiar with prediabetes. This slightly lesser known condition can act as an important marker of diabetes that allow patients to respond and potentially reverse the development of diabetes.
Responding appropriately to prediabetes requires a solid understanding of the condition itself, what causes it, and how to identify it.
What is Prediabetes?
Similar to diabetes, prediabetes occurs when the body does not respond appropriately to the hormone insulin or does not produce enough of it. A lack of insulin or insulin resistance may cause excess glucose to remain in the bloodstream thereby prompting the development of prediabetes. This condition indicates that an individual is at a greater risk of developing a future diabetic condition. Studies suggest that those with prediabetes are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes within 10 years.
The limited awareness of prediabetes does not make it any less common. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention released a Diabetes Statistics Report that states an estimated 37 percent of Americans over the age of 20 and 51 percent over the age of 65 present symptoms consistent with prediabetes. Unfortunately, many of these cases go unrecognized due in part to ignorance of the condition.
Prediabetes is often present without exhibiting symptoms. However, if symptoms do develop, they are frequently overlooked due to their vague nature. Common symptoms of prediabetes may appear as mild diabetic symptoms including:
- Blurred vision
- Darkening or thickening of the skin
- Frequent urination
- Hypoglycemia (dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, hunger etc.)
- Thirst or dryness of mouth
- Weight loss
If a person experiences some or all of the above symptoms, they should seek medical assistance and testing.
One of the primary signs of prediabetes is an abnormal blood sugar level. Therefore, initial testing typically involves measuring blood glucose levels as one of the primary signs of prediabetes is an abnormal blood sugar level. Assessing blood glucose can be done in a variety of ways. A1C testing measures average blood glucose during prior months. Alternatively, the fasting plasma glucose test examines the blood glucose level when it is not influenced by food or drink. These and other tests can be used to determine if a patient is prediabetic.
Who is At Risk for Prediabetes?
There are several risk factors associated with an increased likelihood of developing prediabetes. Individuals who fall into one or more of the following categories should look out for signs of prediabetes.
As we age, the risk of prediabetes increases. Those who are over 45 years of age are at greater risk and after the age of 65 the risk is exponentially higher.
African-Americans, Hispanics, Indians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders have an elevated risk of prediabetes.
Women are 50% more likely to develop diabetes than men. Furthermore, research shows that women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome are two times more likely to develop diabetes.
Those with a parent or sibling with diabetes have a much greater likelihood of developing diabetes.
Lack of Exercise
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, poor insulin activity and production, and retention of excess glucose. Each of these factors contributes greatly to prediabetes.
Poor heart health
Elevated blood pressure, reduced HDL cholesterol levels, and increased triglycerides all contribute greatly to the risk of developing diabetes.
Poor sleep is highly associated with type two diabetes. Poor sleep and sleep apnea may significantly impede glucose control thereby contributing to prediabetes development.
Those with excess fatty tissue, particularly located around the abdomen, are more resistant to insulin thereby increasing the likelihood of prediabetes and diabetes.
Choosing the Right Response to Prediabetes
Prediabetes is a major warning sign to patients that diabetes will soon be upon them unless significant lifestyle changes are made. Multiple studies show that prediabetic patients who make the appropriate lifestyle changes can reduce their risk of developing diabetes between 40 to 70 percent. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that participants who followed an intervention plan focused on weight loss, physical activity, and dietary optimization reduced their risk of diabetes by 58 percent. It is clear that improving lifestyle factors such as physical activity, diet, and sleep quality, prediabetic patients can support weight loss and limit their risk of developing diabetes.
Incorporating daily movement is a good first step to reducing the risk of diabetes. Being more active can start as simply as stretching during commercial breaks while watching TV, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking around the block. Physical activity helps eliminate excess glucose and reduces blood glucose levels that can contribute to insulin resistance and body fat. Ideally, physical activity is done for a minimum of 30 minutes five days a week.
Following the proper diet can significantly improve prediabetic factors. Perhaps the most important component of a prediabetic diet is to regulate blood sugar. Products containing refined sugar significantly increase blood glucose levels. Therefore, eliminating foods such as soda, fruit juice, energy drinks, and other high sugar items is critical. Prediabetic patients should also focus on eating meals containing fewer carbs and more protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Additionally, a helpful practice for regulating blood sugar is to follow a scheduled meal plan, which can help ensure that blood glucose remains at the appropriate level throughout the day.
Those who regularly don’t get enough sleep have greater difficulty losing weight, have more stress and are more likely to be resistant to insulin. Each of these elements contribute to prediabetes. Improving sleep quality and lowering the risk for diabetes can be done by following good sleep habits:
- Avoid using electronics such as the computer, TV, or smartphone right before going to bed.
- Optimize the sleep environment by removing unnecessary light and eliminating intrusive noise.
- Set a consistent sleep schedule to wake up and fall asleep at the same time every day and night.
Intervention That Suits Your Situation
Prediabetes is a major indicator of the risk for future diabetes development. Therefore, identifying and properly responding to prediabetes is essential. Everyone is unique meaning that prediabetes intervention plans must be created on an individual basis. Spend some time with your doctor crafting the perfect plan for your specific needs. Be sure to focus on optimizing major factors of prediabetes and diabetes such as weight, exercise, diet, and sleep.
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